Semesters work in mysterious ways. It’s as if you’re in a time dilation—the first and last weeks s t r e t c h, but blink and you might miss the rest. Now that I’ve rubbed the stars of confusion from my eyes and settled into routine, school is proceeding as it normally does: at a blinding pace.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m enrolled in four classes. College works a bit differently here than it does in the States; in fact, we seem to be the world’s only exception to the rule. Instead of taking more classes—say, six or seven—most here take a standard four classes, called “papers”. In each paper, you can expect weekly readings accompanied by a few big projects, plus a final exam that accounts for half (or more) of your grade. It’s a shift from doing more regular assignments, and it certainly tests your ability to manage time when things aren’t due for weeks or even months. However, only having to spend a few hours in class each day is a welcome change.
Degree programs are structured differently here as well. Most bachelor’s programs are three years long, and there’s little variation in the courses you take; the concept of picking and choosing classes without regard to your year isn’t really an option. For example, I’m in a third-year horticulture paper, and everyone in it is a third-year horticulture student. This is dissimilar to, say, when I took a 300-level soils course at Iowa State, where you could find a wide variety of class standings and majors.
So what did I come all the way across the ocean to learn? Well…how to grow kiwi, mostly. Or kiwifruit, as it’s called here. This is the main focus of our discussions in my aforementioned horticulture paper, the class that takes up most of my time. It’s certainly different than anything I’d see in the Midwest—when we’re not talking about kiwi, we’re out in the apple orchard taking data for a project, or considering the impact of climate change on winemaking. Although I’m fairly certain I won’t be working in any of these fruit production industries, it’s cool to be exploring topics I wouldn’t have the chance to otherwise.
The same goes for my Maōri class. Learning the language (or attempting to, at least) of the native people of New Zealand is something you can only do in, well, New Zealand. Te reo is nothing like the French I took for years, and being back in a language course makes me remember why I loved it. Our instructor is enthusiastic, filling our twice-weekly lectures with songs, games, and cultural anecdotes that delve deeper into the study of Maōri. I’ll admit, it’s not easy—Polynesian languages are filled with unfamiliar syllables and incredibly long words that seem especially foreign to me. However, it makes learning another basic phrase all the more exciting. So far I can introduce myself and my family, ask people how they’re feeling, and discuss my favorite foods! Hey…it’s something.
I’m also taking a business writing course, something that seems odd until you consider the fact that it’s required for my agronomy degree at ISU. But it is odd, really—editing emails? Drafting memos? This isn’t like any kind of writing I’ve done before, nor do I imagine myself to be doing it in any future jobs. However, it’s literally the only composition class I’ll take in college, so I’m enjoying the chance to write at all. It also sort of makes me wish that I was in a more creative field; I’ve always loved design and communications, so this course makes me wonder what a path in journalism or media could have been like. Perhaps as evidenced by this blog (or by my former endeavors)…I really love writing! Hopefully this isn’t the last time I’m able to do something that isn’t a lab report or a research paper.
Lastly, I’m in a course called Managing the Landscape. Although it came to me at recommendation from a fellow ISU agronomy student, I’m not really sure why I’m taking it. First, it’s a landscape architecture class (not me) for those in their final year (again, no). It involves the study of trees as they age (ok, sort of me?) and management strategies to replace them as elements deteriorate (aaaaand we’re gone). Luckily, the other three students—one German on exchange and two girls in ecology—are just as lost as I am, and our professor knows it. So stay tuned, I guess, to see how this one goes?
When I’m not in school, I can generally be found reading—currently, this is Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and a nostalgic re-read of L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. When I’m not doing that, there’s a good chance I’m baking butter-laden treats or indoctrinating unsuspecting Kiwis to the wonders of fluffy pancakes with hot maple syrup. This weekend I’ll be climbing the summit of Mount Ruapehu, and the weekend after hiking the Tongariro Crossing. After that, it’s just a few weeks until we head down to the South Island.
Did I mention time is going fast?